Junior Camp Groove

It’s been a terrific Tuesday at Illahee. The Junior campers are settled looking more confident as they travel from activity to activity around camp. The Junior session sounds different. This afternoon, from my office, I could hear the joyful sound of girls coming from the Busy Bee and the weaving hut, up the hill from the office and nestled under the trees. Their giggles made me think of birds chirping up in the trees. On the swim lake campers floated in tubes and swung from the Tarzan rope- squealing like magpies. A few campers are already trying bag flips off of the Tarzan- a coveted skill. Carly made a hearty breakfast – biscuits, sausage and scrambled eggs and chatter filled the dining hall. By lunchtime the volume had risen and some of the tables sounded like chip monks chattering. The community is settling in; I call it the “kumbaya” feeling when all seems right at camp. This is also a time that I want to slow down the days. It’s our final week in the camp season and the days are waning. In June it was light until 9:30 and now by 8:45 we need a flashlight.

While it may be getting dark earlier, camp days are full! This morning the Paw Paw Patch led Rise and Shine, our morning assembly time. A cabin shares a devotional and then introduces themselves. This session we are back in McLeod, the lodge at the head of the lake, which along with the dining hall was built in 1921 when camp started. The lodge is cozy and rustic with a big porch. It’s one of my favorite spots. We sing songs and give announcements for the day. It’s a cross between a pep rally and a time to reflect. Lucas has created a popular character who has been a hit – Merriam Webster- a talking dictionary. And each morning campers chant “Word of the Day!” and Merriam comes out with a word and message. Today’s word- Creativity! Good things come from creativity and there is plenty of time to create at camp- girls are making Christmas ornaments in ceramics, bandana necklaces in the Busy Bee and painting in the firefly. To demonstrate creativity, Lucas wrote an Illahee version of a Taylor Swift song and actually sang it. Like me, he loves a stage and a microphone.

Rise and Shine is also the time that our Napkin Ball Queen shows off camper creations. Campers create “napkin balls” for Groover (aka Grace Hoover) to sing about at Rise and Shine. Groover is our “napkin ball queen” and she manages a folder of napkin ball songs written over the years. Cabin groups can make a napkin sculpture at breakfast and present it to her. She and an entourage of counselors will sing about it. It is only at camp that you can have a tradition that goes back generations based on singing about napkins!

After a full day of activities, evening program always follows dinner. During the summer, we do a range of night time activities from Rainbow Tag to Commercial Night to Dec the Counselor and even an occasional movie during the four week session. At every session there is a hill night when one hill goes to Sliding Rock. Tonight was Hi Ho and Pineview’s trip to the Rock. Gardner, Lucas, and Claire led the group and they were joined by our nurses. Denise directs the Wishing Well and spends the full summer at camp. She started working when her own girls were campers and now, her 21st summer, her daughters are married and have careers but Denise can make a summer at Illahee a priority. This summer we’ve seen her go down the slip-n-slide, the Streak and start a water gun fight during Rainbow Tag. She is planning to take on Sliding Rock tonight. I can tell that it’s been a healthy summer for campers! Denise has time to play.

The Hillbrook campers are settled on their hill after a big evening program. Cabin groups were paired so that campers could meet other girls and as they travelled around camp following clues, they learned names and sang camp songs. Their activities included s’more making; tadpole catching; pyramid building; and a big game of Captain’s Coming and Toilet Tag (a new name for what I remember as freeze tag.) They may be asleep when Hi Ho roles in from their trip to Sliding Rock and Dolly’s.

Speaking of sleep, I’m looking forward to it this evening! My day started early with the last counselor Bible study of the summer. Gordon and I have been hosting staff in our living room on Tuesdays at 6:30 am since summer 2005…I think we’ve only missed one or two Tuesdays- one was during the norovirus outbreak- summer 2009 August session. We even had Bible study during 2020 when we hosted a 2 week leadership camp for our high school campers after cancelling the regular camp season. I actually spend more time prepping the food for the gatherings- cinnamon rolls and fruit salad are the staples with a large urn of coffee. This morning I splurged with breakfast casseroles. I enjoy cooking and feeding people, and these gatherings with our counselors builds our community. Over the years we’ve wrestled with the issues around comparing ourselves to others; the power social media can have over us; how much we all love the summer and the love that is so prevalent in camp. This summer we’ve talked a lot about gratitude and joy and choosing gratitude and choosing to be strong and courageous. This morning, circled up in our living room that overlooks the canoe lake and pastures, we had some counselors who had been here all summer and others who are back for the week. Some were JC’s entering their senior year in high school, a few are starting their freshman year at college and others are off to graduate school or a post college job. Gordon and I have seen transitions in our own lives during these summer. The early years Gardner and Turner were in elementary school stumbling into the kitchen in their pajamas to find a room full of counselors- now they’re both married and in their own homes. But gathering with the counselors in our living room makes me realize how many of life’s themes are the same even as we are in different stages. (I feel a little like Peter Pan with the lost boys.) I want to tell them all – be kind to yourself! Don’t be so hard on yourself! Stop comparing yourself to others! Seek joy! Enjoy the present moments. And I want to tell you that too. I’ll try to practice it as well. Sleep well!